•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

GIs, vet resisters take lead in anti-war actions

Published May 24, 2008 7:52 AM

Veterans groups and individual GI resisters and their supporters have taken the lead in the U.S. anti-war movement. In mid-May there were multiple reports of war refusals and one mass protest at a major military training base for troops headed for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Near Fort Drum in upstate New York, the Watertown-based Different Drummer Café joined with the Iraq Veterans Against the War and peace activists who had marched from the upstate cities of Rochester, Ithaca and Utica to hold a festival on May 17, Armed Forces Day.

Drummer organizer Tod Ensign told Workers World that as the official Armed Forces Day Parade ended outside the Dulles Federal Building, Col. Kenneth Riddle, Fort Drum’s garrison commander, found himself surrounded by IVAW members in their black T-shirts.

When asked about the failure of the command to address Iraq veterans’ problems with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all Col. Riddle could say was, “I just got here two weeks ago.” Though the vets requested a meeting, Riddle begged it off.

The festival, scheduled for a campsite and including five popular musical performances, moved inside to the Different Drummer when rain started. One observer described the scene: “Veterans and anti-warriors from at least four U.S. wars mingled happily together. The Drummer was bursting at the seams, as festival participants spilled on to the mall walkway outside while over 50 danced and celebrated inside.”

An African-American veteran read a poem dedicated to his wife, a soldier who has been called up for a second tour of duty in Iraq. She was in the audience holding their 7-month-old son. The couple received a tremendous outpouring of sympathy, including assurances of legal, moral and practical support, whatever choice they make.

Ensign noted the atmosphere of mutual understanding between the upstate peace movement and the soldiers just now beginning to question the war. Another good point was the marchers’ reception in a traditionally conservative area—a local American Legion chapter hosted the marchers for dinner and let them stay in their hall for the night. Plus the marchers got relatively good publicity in both local upstate press and in the New York Times. (May 15)

Ensign told how Gen. Michael Oates, commander of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division, had released a conciliatory statement during the week that he “welcomed” the peace marchers, saw “no problem” with their demonstrating on base if they didn’t block traffic, and said active-duty GIs could join in if they didn’t wear uniforms.

Support for resisters

Other signs of the disenchantment with the wars were the growing number of war resisters.

One is Army PFC Ryan Jackson, who was formally charged with multiple counts of being absent without leave, stemming from his attempt to be released from the Army prior to Iraq deployment. His special court martial—with a maximum one-year prison sentence—on these charges is set for May 30 at Fort Gordon, Ga.

“Since I joined up with Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War, my life has changed. I plan to write a book about all of this, and to make positive change in my community when I get out,” said Jackson before turning himself in at Fort Sill, Okla., on April 4.

Dianne Mathiowetz, the Atlanta coordinator for the International Action Center, told WW, “Support for Ryan Jackson is building with activists in the Augusta area near Fort Gordon. Also, the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition and the IAC are mobilizing to attend the vigil the night of May 29 and the court martial. All members of the military who refuse to participate in this illegal war of occupation deserve our full support.”

IVAW member Matthis Chiroux announced on May 15 in Washington, D.C., his refusal to report to active duty. Sgt. Chiroux, who is originally from Auburn, Ala., has done tours in Germany, Afghanistan and the Philippines since his June 2002 enlistment.

“As an Army journalist whose job it was to collect and filter service members’ stories,” Chiroux said, “I heard many stomach-churning testimonies of the horrors and crimes taking place in Iraq. For fear of retaliation from the military, I failed to report these crimes, but never again will I allow fear to silence me. Never again will I fail to stand.”

Chiroux announced his courageous decision in the Cannon House Office Building rotunda, after fellow IVAW members testified before the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

During a court martial May 13 at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany, U.S. Army conscientious objector Robert Weiss was sentenced to seven months confinement. Weiss pled guilty to charges of desertion and missing movement. Weiss had learned in December 2007 that his conscientious objector application was denied.

Bryan Currie says he joined the Army in November 2004 because “I thought it would be a good thing to fight for my country.” He was trained as an Infantry Grenadier and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 for 11 months. He describes what he experienced when he got injured:

“We were on a convoy to pick up another soldier. I was the driver. On the way back my truck got hit by a land mine. ... I got burned, I lost four teeth, broke my jaw, got shrapnel on my hands, I was jolted forward so my knees are all swollen and my back’s always sore.” He was treated in Afghanistan, was out of combat for three weeks and then was sent back to drive trucks.

When he returned to the U.S., he saw several military psychiatrists who treated him for PTSD. “They’d give you a bag of pills and they’d say, ‘Here, try these and if that one doesn’t work try another and if you find one that does, stick to it.’” Ordered to redeploy despite his injuries, Currie packed his bags and left. He is currently AWOL and says he is now “100 percent against the military. I’ve done a complete U-turn.”

For more information on aiding resisters, see couragetoresist.org, ivaw.org and differentdrummercafe.org.

E-mail: jcat@workers.org